Potential Biden Cabinet Pick a Frequent Guest on Chinese Propaganda Outlets

Progressive darling Jeffrey Sachs previously consulted for Chinese regime

Columbia professor Jeffrey Sachs / Getty Images
November 13, 2020

Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and potential progressive pick for a cabinet position under a Joe Biden administration, appeared on Chinese propaganda outlets throughout the 2020 campaign to blast U.S. foreign policy as an "unholy crusade against China."

Sachs, a Columbia University economist, contributed to scathing articles in the Global Times, China Daily, and other regime mouthpieces and has done media hits on state-owned outlets such as the China Global Television Network (CGTN). Sachs has maintained a long relationship with the Chinese government and business elite, which can be traced back to at least the early 2000s.

Over the last few months, Sachs has criticized new U.S. restrictions on Huawei as undue "punitive measures" and condemned sanctions implemented after Beijing's Hong Kong crackdown. The academic has also lavished praise on China for its economic development programs, including the controversial Belt and Road Initiative, which critics fear is trapping developing countries in crippling debt. He accused President Donald Trump of "trying to incite a new cold war against China" in comments published in the Global Times in May.

Originally an economist who made a name for himself in the field of development economics, Sachs has made frequent appearances on mainstream U.S. media networks such as CNN and MSNBC, earning him a following among progressives. His name has been floated as a potential cabinet member in a Biden White House.

Sachs did not respond to a request for comment.

Sachs has vehemently opposed tariffs against China, characterizing them as a politically motivated policy that undermines free trade. Former U.S. ambassador to China Max Baucus also appears on Chinese propaganda outlets to criticize Trump. Baucus is an adviser on China policy to the Biden campaign, indicating that the former vice president could soften the U.S. approach to China.

James Carafano, a foreign policy expert at the Heritage Foundation, said Sachs's views on China are divergent from the mainstream national security consensus among both Democrats and Republicans.

"I think both Republicans and Democrats see China's malicious activity as a threat," Carafano told the Washington Free Beacon. "So, I think a lot of those comments are really out of mainstream for both Democrats and Republicans, and have nothing to do with whether you liked this administration's policies on China or not."

Sachs has maintained close ties to the Chinese elite for years. The professor—who first consulted for the Chinese government between 2001 and 2002 on its "Western Development Policy"—is an advisory board member for the International Poverty Reduction Center in China, according to his official biography. Meanwhile, documents from a 2016 United Nations forum indicate Sachs previously served on the advisory board of the nonprofit arm of an indicted Chinese energy company, which used the nonprofit to funnel bribes to African leaders. Sachs denied ever being on the board in 2018.

By the Free Beacon's count, Sachs has written articles for or been extensively quoted in Chinese propaganda outlets on at least five occasions and appeared on the state-owned CGTN's broadcasts eight times. Whenever Sachs was cited in CGTN web articles, Chinese propagandists ran headlines touting Beijing's talking points: "Expert: Trump suspending WHO funding is 'disgraceful' and 'disgusting'"; "A pandemic is no time for U.S. economic sanctions"; "How can China's anti-poverty experience inspire UN SDGs?" 

Despite having written dozens of academic articles on the Chinese economy, Sachs expressed ignorance and mild skepticism in 2018 regarding human-rights atrocities in Xinjiang. He conflated them with "propaganda" against the Chinese government at a time when several Western outlets had already reported about the detention of more than a million Muslim Uighurs in concentration camps.

"Trying to understand situation. Happy to read suggested books & articles," Sachs tweeted when asked to condemn the detention of Uighurs. "I've not had occasion to visit Xinjiang in 15 yrs. With so much glib USG propaganda & denial of US wars and misdeeds I strive for cooperation."

Sachs has also been a consistent supporter of the Chinese tech giant Huawei, brushing aside Western concerns that the firm poses a national security risk. He quit Twitter in 2018 after receiving persistent criticism for an article he wrote defending Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, whom the United States has accused of violating sanctions on Iran. The Global Times came to Sachs's defense, saying critics were guilty of "neo-McCarthyism."

Carafano predicted that Sachs's views on China will land him in hot water during a potential Senate confirmation hearing. The position of Treasury secretary, a likely spot for Sachs should he receive a cabinet nomination, will be expected to enforce economic sanctions against China. "I think his views are going to raise the eyebrows of senators," Carafano said.

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment.